Playoff Result: Missed playoffs
Key Additions: Andrew Bynum (free agent), Jarrett Jack (free agent), Earl Clark (free agent), Anthony Bennett (draft), Sergey Karasev (draft), Mike Brown (coach)
Key Losses: Wayne Ellington (free agent), Omri Casspi (free agent), Marreese Speights (free agent)
Predicted 2013-14 Record: 41-41 (8th in East)*
What to Expect: Cleveland had one of the better summers, winning the draft lottery (again) and inking free agent center Andrew Bynum.
They’re a largely unproven team, though. Bynum and Anderson Varejao’s health will be what Cleveland’s season relies on. The Cavs took a chance on Bynum, bringing in the former All-Star big who missed all of last season on a two-year, $24 million deal, with only $6 million guaranteed. Bynum’s bulky knees have caused him to sit out lengthy stretches of the season in the past.
Then, there’s Varejao, who has played a combined 81 games in the past three years. Last season it was blood clots and leg injuries that kept Cleveland’s energy guy sidelined.
Cleveland is also incredibly young, with seven players age 23 or younger. Kyrie Irving is a budding star. Anthony Bennett could fill the gapping hole at small forward as the No. 1 overall selection. Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters add to a very strong core of young talent who will be expected to step their game up as Cleveland fights for it’s first playoff birth post-LeBron.
Matchup with the Hawks: The Hawks and Cavaliers meet up three times in 2013-14. For these two teams, point guard should be one of the better matchups on the court. While Irving is the centerpiece of the Cavs franchise, Teague will look to step into a veteran role for the Hawks after Atlanta brought him back from restricted free agency. Both are dynamic guards who have a shot, but the matchup at the position also translates to the bench. Jarrett Jack is coming off a huge year in Golden State, while rookie Dennis Schröder will have an opportunity to show off why the Hawks snagged him at No. 17.
At shooting guard, it looks to be a matchup of unprovens. Dion Waiters, who showed up for bits of last season, was a struggling defender who relied on his jumper way too much. John Jenkins, by my projections, should step into the starting role at the two-guard, while Lou Williams flourishes off the bench. Jenkins might be the best shooter in last year’s draft, but he’ll need to build the confidence to take his looks consistently.
Bennett is another unproven rookie, but it’s still not clear whether he’ll step into the small forward role, or if he’ll play more power forward. If not Bennett, Alonzo Gee would be Kyle Korver’s primary test at the three. Korver is still proficient at knocking down the three, while Gee is just the opposite – an outstanding perimeter defender.
While the other positions might be fairly competitive, it’s hard to overlook how stacked Atlanta is at center and power forward. Al Horford will roam the paint with Paul Millsap and Elton Brand, along with overseas-acquisition Pero Antic and second-year player Mike Scott. Cleveland is no slouch either, as behind Bynum and Varejao, they also have Tristan Thompson, Earl Clark and Tyler Zeller. Cleveland struggled with bigs last year, but went all out in the offseason to find rim protectors and guys who can score in the paint.
For the season, I’ve got Atlanta taking two out of three, primarily because I can’t see Bynum and Varejao staying healthy.
*predicted record based on Bo’s ESPN Forecast projections for every team